Commonwealth assists Vanuatu Supreme Court

Commonwealth assistance to the Supreme Court of Vanuatu has strengthened the Pacific island’s capacity to deal with the volume of cases and the time they take to be processed.

Like many small states, Vanuatu faces distinct challenges owing to its small size, geographical isolation, high cost of public services and limited pool of professional expertise. This impacts on judicial delivery, particularly institutional capacity.

Cybelle Cenac, a Saint Lucian/British lawyer was deployed by the Commonwealth for 18 months as the Master or Associate Judge of the Supreme Court to introduce new procedures in the capital, Port Vila.

According to Cenac, “the establishment of the Master’s office allowed all cases to be actively tracked from commencement to conclusion. This meant the Master managing all preliminary judicial procedures up until trial, and following trial, until enforcement of judgment. The Master took on the bulk of applications and other peripheral responsibilities of the Judges and significantly opened up their schedule, allowing them to devote more time to trials and judgement writing. This ensured that more cases proceeded to trial at first instance and the length of time to deliver judgments was considerably reduced.”

She also noted that cases were now more court-driven than Attorney-driven, thus improving the overall speed with which cases were proceeding. The output of Attorneys meeting the required standards of the court was also enhanced.

Cenac added that the use of mediation had dramatically increased, with more lawyers and Judges referring matters to be mediated. She attributed this, not only to the availability of a Master to conduct such mediations but also due to confidence in the process, stemming out of a high success rate for settlement of matters before her.

Cenac, who completed her consultancy last month, said she was proud to have strengthened adoption protocols on the island for the greater protection of Ni-Vanuatu children. This included the engagement of two qualified psychologists and trained social workers in the absence of government resources to assist in assessments.

She added: “The protection of Ni-Vanuatu children through the new adoption protocol also indirectly protects women in a highly patriarchal society by ensuring that every measure is taken to guarantee that their decision to forego their parental rights is done voluntarily and not coerced by the biological fathers or other male members of the family.”

The Commonwealth provides judicial technical assistance to member countries on request. Cenac is one of eight Commonwealth judicial experts assigned to strengthen the delivery of justice over the past five years.